Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
Hunter Biden’s guilty plea agreement on two federal tax charges is on hold after a federal judge expressed legal and constitutional concerns at a proceeding on Wednesday.
- Last month, federal prosecutors charged Hunter Biden with two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes. He was expected to accept a sentence of two years of probation for pleading guilty to these crimes. Separately, Hunter Biden stands charged with possession of a firearm by a person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance. For that charge, he would agree to enter a pretrial diversion agreement, which requires him to never again own a firearm and remain drug-free for two years.
- Hunter Biden appeared in court this week prepared to plead guilty to the charges. But after a lengthy hearing, US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, said she was not ready to accept the conditions of the plea deal. First, Noreika was concerned about the agreement itself, questioning whether prosecutors and Hunter Biden’s legal team had agreed to the same terms. For instance, there was disagreement over whether or not the deal would leave Hunter Biden open to further charges. Prosecutors signaled that the investigation is ongoing, while Hunter Biden’s team thought that the plea deal meant that the investigation would be closed. And second, Noreika raised a constitutional issue related to the stipulation for the gun charge. As part of that arrangement, the judge would be tasked with overseeing Hunter Biden’s compliance with the diversion program, and, if he were to violate the terms, deciding whether to bring charges against Hunter Biden. Noreika questioned whether a judge, and not a prosecutor, had the constitutional authority to make those decisions. During the hearing, she said, “It seems to me like you are saying ‘just rubber stamp the agreement, Your Honor.’…This seems to me to be form over substance.” The judge asked the parties to submit additional briefs to further explain the terms of the arrangement.
- Republicans in Congress have criticized the plea deal and DOJ’s handling of the investigation, holding a number of hearings on the matter and releasing testimony from two IRS whistleblowers who criticized Department leadership. House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) praised the judge’s decision to delay acceptance of the deal, saying, “Today District Judge Noreika did the right thing by refusing to rubberstamp Hunter Biden’s sweetheart plea deal. But let’s be clear: Hunter’s sweetheart plea deal belongs in the trash.”
In a court filing, Rudy Giuliani admitted to making false statements related to the 2020 election.
- Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, a mother-daughter duo, filed a defamation lawsuit against Giuliani over his allegations that they engaged in voter fraud. Giuliani served as Trump’s attorney during the 2020 election. Giuliani and others in Trump’s orbit repeatedly attacked Freeman and Moss publicly, which they claim has made them the “objects of vitriol, threats, and harassment.”
- In a statement to the court, Giuliani said that he “does not contest” that his statements were “false” and “carry meaning that is defamatory.” Despite the admission of liability, Giuliani still intends to fight the lawsuit. An aide, Ted Goodman, told Politico that Giuliani’s admission would allow the case to move past the fact-gathering stage so that he could file a motion to dismiss the claim. Goodman said, “This is a legal issue, not a factual issue.”
- Legal experts, such as former Mueller probe prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, wondered why Giuliani was willing to admit that his statements were defamatory and not truthful in order to avoid further fact-gathering in the case. Weissmann wrote, “Big remaining question: what is the damning discovery Rudy is hiding and trying to avoid producing? He has already been sanctioned by Judge Howell for this failure; now he is trying to say it is unnecessary as he is conceding the facts.”
Week In a Nutshell is part of the free weekly CAFE Brief newsletter.
Sign up free to receive the CAFE Brief in your inbox every Friday: cafe.com/brief